The topic of domestic violence and sexual assault can be found in mainstream media as a plot-line on a popular television series or as a shocking story on the fast-paced news cycle. However, the resources victims need in order to understand their options are often not part of the public discourse. For this reason, the Safety and Security Department at RVU hosts an annual Violence Education and Prevention program to help educate students, faculty, and staff about the signs of domestic violence and sexual assault, and about the resources available to survivors in the community.
The program featured two events during the second week of March. The first was a presentation by Amy McCandless, Development Director for the Crisis Center, which focused on the signs of domestic violence. Referencing the “Power and Control Wheel”, Ms. McCandless explained how often pre-meditated tactics carried out by the perpetrator can be readily identified or categorized as intimidation, coercion and threats, emotional abuse, isolation, using children, economic abuse, male privilege, and minimizing, denying, and blaming. A combination of these methods are often employed, creating greater obstacles for the victim. After the first incident, the victim struggles to cope and is left unsure of the necessary actions to end the abuse. According to statistics shared by the Crisis Center and the Parker Police Department, many victims do not report the ongoing abuse until the seventh to tenth incidents.
The second event was a discussion panel featuring guest speakers Kade Rucker, MAC, LPC, NLC, Counselor; Jennifer Roger-Flynn, Victim’s Advocate with the Parker Police Department; and Deb Stasio, psychologist. The panel further discussed sexual assault – which is sometimes a tactic used by perpetrators of domestic violence – and how to help a victim who refuses help. Organized as a question and answer session, the panel shed light on the long-term effects of trauma, the requirements for reporting abuse as a physician, signs of stalking, and the abuse of children.
One of the takeaways for students was that as a physician the first (and best) thing to do is to ask questions during the patient intake process. Legible and accurate documentation of all injuries accompanied by a detailed description of everything the patient said can later prove to be essential testimony if the victim chooses to report and press charges. Attendees also learned of resources available to victims (such as the Crisis Center), cultural barriers and system constraints on victims (which may keep them from reporting), the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) utilized by the Parker Police Department, and the ACEs Study and Assessment.
Identifying the signs of domestic violence and sexual assault is an important part of helping survivors break free of the cycle of abuse. If a victim chooses not to report, healthcare professionals and members of the community should do their best to provide support and access to necessary services.